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Number of overdose deaths in Knox, Anderson counties increased from 2020 to 2021

Fentanyl and similar synthetic opioids were the most commonly identified drugs in drug-related deaths in 2021, according to the Knox County Regional Forensic Center.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The number of overdose deaths in Knox County increased 29% in 2021, according to the 2021 Drug-Related Death Report for Knox and Anderson Counties by the Knox County Regional Forensic Center.

This increase comes on top of a 41% increase in 2020. Overdose deaths increased in Anderson County by 67% on top of an 81% increase in 2020. 

Fentanyl and synthetic opioids similar to fentanyl were the most commonly identified drugs in drug-related deaths in 2021. After fentanyl, methamphetamine, diphenhydramine, alcohol and cocaine were the next four most common drugs found.

“Last year we elaborated on the new novel synthetic drugs,” Knox County Regional Forensic Center Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Darinka Mileusnic-Polchan said. “There are more of them on the market this year and they are deadlier than ever—alone or in combination with other drugs. Snorting and/or intravenous drug abuse continue to be the predominant modes of intake in drug intoxication deaths.”

Polypharmacy, which is when more than one drug is responsible for a death, was involved in 76% of drug-related deaths in Knox and Anderson counties.  

People 35 to 40 years old experienced the most drug deaths in Knox County, however, the sharpest increase in 2021 was in those aged 55 to 64. 

The presence of anxiety, anti-depressant and anti-psychotic medication was found in 30% of all drug deaths in Knox County and in 38% of all drug deaths in Anderson County. 

“2021 was a tough year for a lot of people,” Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs said. “Sadly, many of those battling addiction were without the help and support they needed, and the numbers in this report reflect that.”

Prescription opioid-related deaths are decreasing in both Knox and Anderson counties. Despite this, officials warn that drug-related deaths are climbing in 2022. 

“The overdose epidemic in Knox County, like across the nation, continues to grow in magnitude and new stronger drugs are making it worse,” Knox County Regional Forensic Center Director Chris Thomas said. “Preliminary data for drug deaths in 2022, unfortunately, indicates an even more upward trend for drug-related death cases in Knox County.” 

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